A local First Nation says it's "disappointed" Teck Coal is seeking to reduce the $16 million in fines it was assessed by the B.C. Ministry of Environment in January for polluting waterways in B.C.'s East Kootenay.
In January, the province imposed three administrative penalties on Teck Coal Limited, a subsidiary of Teck Resources, citing the company's failure to have water treatment facilities ready by a required date.
The company had been asked to have the facilities ready in order to limit emissions of nitrate and selenium from its Fording River operations in the Elk Valley.
"That Teck would use legal avenues to avoid and minimize responsibility, rather than taking accountability for harms to the environment by paying these penalties and improving its performance, is disappointing," said Ktunaxa Nation Chair Kathryn Teneese in a statement.
The Ktunaxa Nation Council (KNC) said it was encouraged by the provincial decision-maker's determinations, which they say included the recognition of Ktunaxa perspectives, jurisdiction, and involvement in protecting the local environment, including water.
"These determinations demonstrate that provincial regulatory enforcement action is finally moving to hold industry accountable for its pollution in the Elk Valley," stated the release from the nation.
In response, Teck said in an emailed statement to CBC News that its appeal was based on "concerns about the process".
"We are seeking an option so funds paid could instead flow to community or environmental programs that further the Ktunaxa's stewardship and cultural objectives," it said.
It said that the water treatment facility at Fording River Operations, the delay of which was the primary subject of the penalties, is now fully operating and achieving near-complete removal of selenium from treated water.
Wyatt Petryshen, a mining policy researcher at the Kimberley, B.C.-based environmental conservation advocacy group Wildsight, said Teck Coal has a history of missing implementation deadlines for water treatment facilities.
He said Teck seeking a better way to pay fines directly to the Ktunaxa is redundant.
"If it's anything like the federal process, that money will go back into the community anyway," he said. "The whole point of the fine is that they don't continue deteriorating the watershed."
4-fold increase in treatment capacity, says Teck
The company said that, to date, it's built four facilities, which collectively have the capacity to remove selenium from up to 77.5 million litres of water per day.
"[That is] a four-fold increase from our treatment capacity in 2020, and we are working to further increase that to 120 million litres per day by the end of 2026," said the statement.
The company also said it has invested $1.2 billion in water quality in the area and will invest a further $750 million over the next two years.